Press Release

November 12, 1996

Political parties in Egypt: Twenty years of a restricted multiparty system

Yesterday, CHRLA organized a workshop on the right to form political parties twenty years after the multiparty system was introduced in Egypt.

Dr. Mustafa Kamel al-Sayed, professor of political sciences at Cairo University, and member of CHRLA's board of trustees, steered the workshop. Justice Sa'id al-Gamel, 'Abdel-Ghafar Shukr, head of the cultural office of al-Tagammu' party; 'Abdallah Khalil, and Nasser Amin, members of the board of trustees of the Egyptian Organization for Human rights; Abuel-'Ela Madi, and Dr. Rafiq Habib, founders of the as yet unlicensed Wasat party; Dr. Magdy Qarqur, assistant secretary general of the Labor party; Farida al-Naqqash, member of the Central Committee of the Tagammu' party; Ahmad Sayf al-Islam, lawyer; participated in the workshop. Lawyer 'Adel 'Eid, journalist Hussayn 'Abdel-Razeq, members of the board of trustees of CHRLA also participated in the workshop in addition to a number of researchers of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

The workshop was based on the report published by CHRLA last October entitled 'Egyptian Politics: the fiction of a multiparty system.'

The participants drew the following conclusions from their discussion:

1. The right to form political parties is not only restricted by the Law on Political Parties (Law 40/1977) but also by laws that restrict the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, in particular the Emergency Law, the Law on the Protection of Social Values, the Law on the Military Judiciary, and certain articles of the Penal Code, certain articles of the new Press Law (Law 96/1996), the Radio and Television Law (Law 13/1979 amended by Law 223/1989) which gives the state and the ruling party full control of the broadcast media, as well as the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights (Law 73/1956) and the laws relating to elections in the various government bodies.

It was clear during the discussions that a large number of people considered the widespread use of torture and maltreatment of citizens in police stations and places of custody (such as prisons, reformatories etc.), and the violence between the police and armed Islamic groups, good reason to avoid getting involved in politics.

2. Despite the fact that the participants agreed that the formation of political parties was controlled by the presidency, the discussions indicated their view that the introduction of a multiparty system was in fact an inevitable part of the social, economic and political upheavals taking place in the 1970s. As part of this process the labor and student movements were attempting to gain recognition as independent bodies, the gap between rich and poor was widening, and the government was gearing itself towards generating a favorable investment climate in Egypt.

3. The participants reiterated the need to abolish all legal restrictions on the right to form political parties, with the exception of the restrictions applying to parties formed for military purposes.

The discussion showed an overwhelming majority (near consensus) disagreed with allowing the formation of religious parties. The participants opposed the formation of political parties that call for a religious state or those that would discriminate between citizens on the basis of their religious beliefs. The discussions affirmed respect for citizenship, the rule of law, democratic values, peaceful interchange of power and freedom of thought and belief.

Some of the participants pointed out that although every political party has the right to choose its own ideology, should that party ever come to power this does not mean the party's ideology should be imposed upon the state and society.

4. Despite the fact that the political and legal structure in Egypt has marginalized the role of political parties, the participants held those political parties at least partly responsible for this, citing the following reasons:

a) Lack of democracy and interchange of power within the parties themselves;

b) The increasing divergence between the theory and practice of parties' stated policies;

c) Lack of coordination between the different parties and movements.

5. Political movements (including non-recognized groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the communist parties) need to work together to ensure the repeal of the Political Parties Law and the amendment of the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights.

6. The participants agreed to support most of the recommendations in the report, but qualified this by saying that merely amending the relevant laws is not enough - a review of the Constitution is necessary.

The recommendations of the workshop:

1. Concerning the right to form political parties:

To ask for the Law on Political Parties (Law 40/1977) to be repealed, and for citizens to be allowed unconditionally to form political parties (other than those of a military nature).

2. Concerning the right to unhindered political activism:

a) For the State of Emergency (in force continuously since 1981) to be ended immediately;

b) All articles that restrict the right to peaceful assembly, demonstrations, sit-ins, and the right to strike to be repealed;

c) To allow the free publication of newspapers and to cancel all forms of censorship of publications;

d) The replacement of all custodial penalties with compensatory and disciplinary penalties in all crimes relating to publishing;

e) The principle of "good faith" should be reintroduced, in line with many of the rulings of the Court of Cassation. The burden of proof should fall on the Public Prosecution, or whoever claims that what was published is false;

f) There should be a clear distinction between the exposure of the private lives of individuals and those of public figures, public officials, and civil servants. Public figures should be prepared to accept coverage of their public lives since it is of interest to the public;

g) Impeding journalists in carrying out their work should be considered a crime;

h) The state's monopoly on radio and television should be eliminated, and different political parties and other concerns allowed to establish TV and radio stations;

i) All restrictions on political activism on university campuses should be removed;

j) The referral of civilians to military trials should be abolished;

k) Political parties should be guaranteed the right to invest their money in commercial enterprises to ensure their financial independence.

3. Concerning political participation and the peaceful alternation of power:

a) Constitutional restrictions on the right to run for president should be reviewed, and Article 76 of the Constitution (that requires approval from two-thirds of the members of the People's Assembly for any presidential candidate) should be abolished;

b) The judiciary should oversee the whole electoral process, instead of the current situation in which they have only partial supervision, the rest being the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior;

c) Parliamentary immunity from members during the election period should be removed;

d) A maximum amount for candidates' election budgets should be set.

e) All candidates and parties should have equal TV and radio access.

f) Penalties for election rigging should be stiffened.

g) Police forces should be impartial and non-partisan.

h) Article 93 of the Constitution, which makes the People's Assembly the only authority competent to decide on the validity of its members, should be reviewed. Decisions of the Court of Cassation concerning elections should be extended from being merely advisory to being binding on the People's Assembly.

Finally, the participants called for the formation of a working committee to organize a conference that will include all political parties, political movements, and individuals active in the political sphere, to establish a permanent committee to work on the realization of the recommendations arising from the conference.

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